The Last Jews in Baghdad: Remembering a Lost Homeland

The Last Jews in Baghdad: Remembering a Lost Homeland

by Nissim Rejwan, Joel Beinin
     
 

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Once upon a time, Baghdad was home to a flourishing Jewish community. More than a third of the city’s people were Jews, and Jewish customs and holidays helped set the pattern of Baghdad’s cultural and commercial life. On the city’s streets and in the bazaars, Jews, Muslims, and Christians—all native-born Iraqis—intermingled, speaking

Overview

Once upon a time, Baghdad was home to a flourishing Jewish community. More than a third of the city’s people were Jews, and Jewish customs and holidays helped set the pattern of Baghdad’s cultural and commercial life. On the city’s streets and in the bazaars, Jews, Muslims, and Christians—all native-born Iraqis—intermingled, speaking virtually the same colloquial Arabic and sharing a common sense of national identity. And then, almost overnight it seemed, the state of Israel was born, and lines were drawn between Jews and Arabs. Over the next couple of years, nearly the entire Jewish population of Baghdad fled their Iraqi homeland, never to return. In this beautifully written memoir, Nissim Rejwan recalls the lost Jewish community of Baghdad, in which he was a child and young man from the 1920s through 1951. He paints a minutely detailed picture of growing up in a barely middle-class family, dealing with a motley assortment of neighbors and landlords, struggling through the local schools, and finally discovering the pleasures of self-education and sexual awakening. Rejwan intertwines his personal story with the story of the cultural renaissance that was flowering in Baghdad during the years of his young manhood, describing how his work as a bookshop manager and a staff writer for the Iraq Times brought him friendships with many of the country’s leading intellectual and literary figures. He rounds off his story by remembering how the political and cultural upheavals that accompanied the founding of Israel, as well as broad hints sent back by the first arrivals in the new state, left him with a deep ambivalence as he bid a last farewell to a homeland that had become hostile to its native Jews.

Editorial Reviews

Sephardic Heritage Update
"The Last Jews in Baghdad is a brilliantly written précis of interlinked miniatures that serves as a metonymy of life in the Middle East in the twentieth century. It tells the tale of a young man who struggled along with his family to survive materially and developed socially into a luminous intellectual homme de lettres in a world that was being shaken to its very core."
Jerusalem Post
"This is a book to be enjoyed by the general reader interested in a productive Jewish community that has completely disappeared, and by scholars, who will consider it a valuable source for their studies."

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780292774421
Publisher:
University of Texas Press
Publication date:
01/01/2010
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
1 MB

What People are saying about this

Nancy E. Berg
"This book offers a rare look--detailed and vivid--into a culture that is no longer extant. An autobiography of place, it is a portrait of the making of a young intellectual and of Iraqi society in the thirties and forties. It tells the story of the end of the once rooted and vibrant Jewish community and serves as a wonderful resource for both the scholarly historian and the casual reader."
Ammiel Alcalay
"The Last Jews in Baghdad is the real deal--it is a breath of pure spirit, oxygen, and reality in a realm of depictions and representations that rely on half-truths, false expertise, ideological axe-grinding, and a whole plethora of other ills. The book is crucial; there is nothing at all out there nearly like it."

Meet the Author

Nissim Rejwan is currently a Research Fellow at the Harry S Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Over a distinguished, six-decade career as a historian and journalist, he has published a dozen books, including The Jews of Iraq: 3000 Years of History and Culture and Israel's Place in the Middle East: A Pluralist Perspective, for which he won the 1998 National Jewish Book Award for Israel Studies.

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